The Long Island Rail Road is reminding customers that they could be charged an extra fee if they don’t have their electronic tickets ready when a conductor comes around to check them.
The LIRR reiterated the policy to customers in an email Wednesday with the subject line, "Save Time and Money — Use MTA eTix App."
"The MTA eTix app is the fastest, easiest, and most cost effective way to buy LIRR tickets. But please remember to activate your eTix just before boarding your train," the railroad said in the email. "Failing to have your ticket activated and ready for inspection by LIRR staff may result in having to pay the higher, onboard fare. Thank you for your cooperation."
Launched in 2016, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s "eTix" mobile app allows railroad customers to pay their fare using their mobile phone. Once the "activate" button is pressed, a color pattern flashes on the screen to be displayed to ticket collectors. Poor cellular reception or an uncharged phone battery could prevent a customer from purchasing a ticket onboard a train.
LIRR spokesman Aaron Donovan on Thursday said the email only reiterates the railroad’s long-standing policy that customers must be able to present a valid ticket upon request, or risk having to purchase a ticket at the higher onboard rate. Donovan noted that marketing materials for the electronic tickets long have included the policy, and made it clear that it extends to "customers who were unable to complete a ticket purchase via the MTA eTix app."
The surcharge for onboard ticket purchases ranges from $5.75 to $6.50.
Although the program was intended to save customers time, Anthony Simon, who leads the union that represents LIRR conductors, said the electronic tickets can slow down fare collection efforts. LIRR officials said recently that uncollected fares are costing the railroad about $20 million a year.
"Customers who are waiting to activate their tickets, or in many cases, are downloading the app onboard the train are impacting train crews' ability to collect fares," said Simon, general chairman of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers. "The mindset should be that, whichever ticket you use, it should be readily available once you board.”
Mark Epstein, chairman of the LIRR Commuter Council, the railroad’s official watchdog group, said the LIRR’s notice to customers that they could be charged more for not activating their e-tickets in a timely fashion is "is both ill-timed and ill-advised and should be rescinded immediately."
The railroad’s announcement comes as the MTA considers a 4 percent fare increase in March that could raise the cost of a monthly LIRR ticket by as much as $15.
"What’s next? Will we be charged an additional fee if we don’t show our monthly tickets quickly enough?" Epstein said. "A more constructive way to ensure that passengers activate their eTix is to have a campaign to let riders know why it’s important — that it will help trains move faster, ensure that all tickets are collected — whatever the reasons."